The planned expansion of New Jersey’s medical marijuana sector could be delayed after the state Department of Health hit a legal snag.

Earlier this year the Garden State announced it would issue 108 extra licenses to cannabis businesses, comprising 54 dispensary licenses, 30 processing permits, and 24 cultivation licenses. It received 190 applications for those 24 cultivation licenses and it disqualified 51 of them for reasons ranging from corrupted files to lack of local approval, lack of site control and the non-payment of fees.

However, five applicants joined forces to mount a legal challenge. Attorney Joshua Bauchner filed on behalf of the five groups last week, claiming around 25 applicants were unfairly penalized because a Department of Health glitch prevented their file attachments from being opened.

A two-judge panel has now granted a motion for a stay in the review process. It means the Department must halt its review of the remaining applicants, of which there are almost 150.

Bauchner called it “a big win” and said he would now launch an appeal. If successful, his clients could resubmit their applications.

A potential delay to the process of selecting successful applicants may upset some patients, as the state’s marijuana program is already stretched and there have been calls for it to be ramped up as quickly as possible. However, Bauchner believes this decision will ultimately ensure that the program is as robust as possible and benefit patients.

“We’re very pleased that the court is staying issuance of the licenses pending our appeal in the hopes that it will allow for a merit-based review, so the best applicants are awarded licenses to serve the patient population,” he said.

Right now there are just 12 vertically integrated licensees in the state and they are not all operational.

Last week, New Jersey legislators approved a resolution that will put a referendum on legalizing recreational marijuana on the state’s 2020 ballot. The Senate voted 24-16 in favour of the measure and the Assembly voted 49-24 in favour of it, following a number of committee reviews in either chamber.

Advocates are now optimistic about the prospect of the ballot going ahead next year. Gov. Phil Murphy has backed legalization.

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